May 18

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What’s Water Intoxication?

Dog and Lawn SprinklerDon’t you just love watching a dog enjoy a cool swim?  Or run along the shore of the ocean or lake?  It’s always just a little concerning to me however when the dog is constantly going under or being thrown a ball to retrieve in the water.  All that water going into the dog’s body.  It reminds me of sitting in the bathtub for too long and getting wrinkles on your fingers.  Is there such a thing as over-consumption of water?  Yes, there is….and it can be deadly.

While water intoxication is rare, it can result in low sodium levels called hyponatremia.  Dogs higher at risk for this condition are those gulping down too much, too fast, such as when retrieving a tennis ball from the lake or guzzling from the lawn sprinkler or garden hose.  What happens in this instance is that the body tries to process more water than it can handle.  The presence of all that water dilutes bodily fluids posing a dangerous shift in electrolyte balance and depleting sodium levels.  As sodium maintains blood pressure, nerve and muscle function, when the levels drop, cells (including brain cells) start to fill with water which in turn cause the cells to swell.  Symptoms of water intoxication include loss of coordination, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, glazed eyes and excessive salivation.  Breathing can become difficult, and loss of consciousness, seizures, coma and death can occur.  (Note that excessive salt water intake can cause salt poisoning, hypernatremia).

If your dog loves the water, be sure to monitor his intake and activity.  If he’s taking in too much fluid, request that he take a break and rest for a while.  Water intoxication is a quick-acting progression and can be life-threatening.  If you suspect your dog has any of the above symptoms and has just consumed a large amount of water, get him to your veterinarian immediately.


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